The truth is, you were better. I was always trying to live up to you. I admired you ceaselessly, and I strived to make you jealous. We were two girls with dreams too big for a small town, constantly trying to one up each other, to live faster,
I didn’t tell you how much I loved you, because that would have made me vulnerable. I was too insecure to let you know.
Faster. The rest of our lives couldn’t come soon enough. We drove recklessly on backroads late at night. We lied to our parents, got drunk in basements. We talked about our dreams; about the lives we’d have when we finally got out of here.
There was that night that we lay in the back of a pickup truck, looking up at the stars and singing “Yellow” by Coldplay.
(I can barely listen to Coldplay now. All of their songs are about you.)
But that wasn’t us. Carelessness was an act.
(The act that killed you.)
We slaved over our college applications, and I knew that you were the only one who understood my drive, my need for perfection.
Yet you were more than that. You left cupcakes on the hood of my car after school. You made handmade gifts for our teachers. You were a better person than me. Really, truly better.
When we both got into our dream school, the competition was gone momentarily. It was just us, best friends, clutching each other and laughing/crying in my parents’ kitchen. We celebrated with frozen yogurt.
When I decided to go somewhere else instead, I can’t deny that the idea of no longer living in your shadow was a factor in my decision.
You were happy for me, of course. We each had our own new world for the taking.
Our conversations after we both left are full of exclamation points, detailing the perfection of our lives. I wonder if you were exaggerating the way I was.
In one of my classes last semester, we defined a trauma as an event that splits you in two. I split everything in my life into before you died and after.
I feel like I should say the day you died was a blur, but in truth, every second is seared into my brain, an endless loop.
The text from my mom early that Saturday morning didn’t mean much. I was exhausted and hungover, and I fell back into an uneasy sleep.
Sure, you’d made a mistake. But you’d be fine. We were young and invincible.
I remember exactly where I was in the park, hours later, when I stopped running, when I reread the next message over and over. No.
I sat numbly through breakfast. No. I Googled incessantly in my room. No.
“It doesn’t look good.” Cue the screaming into my phone, the collapsing onto my dorm room floor. He is there in an instant, holding me, out of breath, his hair wet from the shower and skin damp from sprinting through the August heat.
The moment you died, I was trying to eat dinner with my friends. I was focusing every ounce of my attention on my black bean burger when my phone rang. My mother’s voice didn’t even sound like her own.
I needed air. I pushed my way outside. I sat on the curb. Silence.
My fingernails dug into the Styrofoam container full of leftover sweet potato fries on the way home. I held it together; the crying, screaming, gasping would come later.
The sun was setting over Nashville, and I didn’t understand the world was still turning.
I didn’t tell you how much I love(d) you. How much I admire(d) you, that you made me the person I am. In life and in death, you are(were) one of the most essential parts of my being.
For months after your death, I lived in constant fear. Fear of death, yes, because for the first time in my life I was aware of my own mortality. But also fear of happiness. Every time I laughed, I was ridden with guilt. How could I be happy? How could I ever enjoy the things I’d once loved, knowing that you would never take another breath?
Now, I am finally realizing that I didn’t die with you. The truth is, I am here. I am breathing. And every instant — every maddening, exhilarating second of the life I’m living — is for you. For the girl in the pickup truck, staring up at the sky, singing softly,
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.”
And you’ll shine on.
And I love you. Always.